Saturday, December 30, 2006

another year (2006)

Another year has come and is now gone, as we mark our calendars. Alot has happened in the world this year.

Maybe alot has happened in your world. For me it has been challenging in a number of respects. But also a year when more and more I am living in a settled rest of faith in God, even in the midst of difficulties and my own shortcomings.

For me having a blog this year has been helpful. I'm sure the exercise has been good for me, in both regularly posting, and in reading others' comments and postings on their own blogs. For what limitations blogging has, for me it has some blessings. I enjoy getting insights from others. And even more, just the fellowship of meeting other people through their words. John Frye jogged me recently with a comment to that effect.

What about you? What has the year 2006 meant in your life and outlook? How has God worked in your heart and life this year?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Jesus is not macho American

I have caught wind of some strange teachings adrift among some of us American Christians. It goes something like this: Jesus shows us all what a real man is. He was an "in your face", strong armed, authoritative, no-nonsense kind of guy, who was not affected by emotions. He was (and one would assume from that, is) the epitome of masculinity.

This way of thinking is not coming from professing Christians who have a low view of Scripture, but those who, like myself, believe the Bible is the inscripturated Word of God. So that we base our lives, and find our story, within this Book, which itself is alive from God.

Worldliness, as in human thinking that is opposed to God's revelation to humankind in Christ and as found in Scripture, affects us all. We're all under the ongoing command not to be conformed to this world, but to be being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). I do think that worldliness in some ways is more dangerous among those who are quick to point their finger at other Christians, and who think that they themselves have escaped it, at least in their basic belief (and practice) system. When we think we're in the least danger, or danger is past, then we're in the most danger, is the ring of Scripture to us, again and again.

The Jesus I read of in the Bible is not macho American, or macho anything else. One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus along with an invitation is found in Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is described there as gentle and humble in heart. The picture I pick up of Jesus, by American standards when judging manliness is probably mixed. Yes, he throws out the money changers in the temple. He probably is the man in his family for awhile, since Joseph seems to fade out of the picture and Jesus is left as "the carpenter" and oldest son.

But Jesus also weeps. He is a man of sorrows. He loves individuals. He is moved with compassion on people and multitudes. He forgives his enemies, including those who spit on him, beat him, and nail him to a cross. And, as we read in the above passage, Jesus is gentle and humble, or lowly in heart.

I am not impressed with the wave of teaching that makes Jesus into a kind of clone, or better put, the epitome of what amounts to an idealized worldly philosophy. While Jesus was and is certainly a human male, he is the pattern, and life, from the Father and by the Spirit, in whom we're all to grow, and take on our new humanity and character. Females and males alike in that. Yes, we're not neutered. But neither are we reduced to an ideal that is really in Adam, and not in our Lord.

I suppose I would like to work more on this. Though I really would do so out of a sense of necessity, and not because of any personal interest I have in it. We're learning, through Scripture, by the Spirit, in community, what Christ-likeness is really like. Let's learn to be content with that. And, in the words of our Master and Teacher, come to him, take his yoke so we can walk alongside of him, and find him lifting our weariness and burdens. He who is gentle and humble in heart. Finding that his yoke is easy; his burden he carries is light. And that we're all in this together with him.

Are you familiar with this teaching or image of Jesus? Does Jesus fit any particular stereotype in your mind? Or in whom do you see his image most clearly? Or, what thoughts would you add to this?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

embracing grace 14: a family of embracing grace

The kingdom of God come in Jesus, extends to all who respond to this "embracing grace". We embrace, in return, and then learn, over time to embrace with grace in the same way we've been embraced. This involves every part of our world, and really extends to every nook and cranny on earth. And, in a real sense, it takes a lifetime for each one of us in Jesus.

This was likely true of the apostle John, whose early actions and words are a far cry from his letters he wrote as an older man in 1, 2 and 3 John. We find this true in noteworthy ways, inspiring in the depth out of which people have and are rising out of. Into new persons in Jesus. And if we look at ourselves aright, then we'll find that we too, in Jesus, are in their company. We too have our stories to tell. We too need to travel a long way, taking time, even decades, to begin to really live in that life Jesus has promised to us, a life that is full and overflows (John 10). A life more and more conformed in the image of our Lord, as we come to our unique, God-given real selves in Jesus.

This is a reality that is to extend beyond us, and really through us, so as to begin to take in all others to the table with Jesus. So that they, along with us can grow together into the wonderful likeness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

This book is full of good stories and quotes from people in the family of embracing grace. I love the story of Karen Spears Zacharias, writer of Hero Mama (the paperback version, After the Flag is Folded). She tells of the devastation the death of her father in Vietnam brought on her and her family. And God's embracing grace that came in. And the voice that she now has, in telling her story, and helping the families of others who have lost loved ones in war.

We each have stories to tell. We're all works in progress, in Jesus. He takes us, and makes us into the persons we were meant to be. We find our true selves, and our true place in God's wonderful Story.

As Jesus reaches out to embrace each of us, to embrace you, won't we respond in turn? And embrace him? And each other? And the world? God, help us to do so, by your grace given to us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The links in working through Scot McKnight's book: Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us:

intro to "the gospel of embracing grace"
embracing grace 1: performing the gospel
embracing grace 2: the beginning of the gospel
embracing grace 3: the story of the Eikon
embracing grace 4: cracked Eikons
embracing grace 5: the epic of the Eikon
embracing grace 6: page after page
embracing grace 7: a missional gospel
embracing grace 8: stories of the gospel story
embracing grace 9: the divine comedy gospel
embracing grace 10: a five-foot gospel
embracing grace 11: diminished by exclusion
embracing grace 12: enlivened by embrace
embracing grace 13: dancing embrace
embracing grace 14: a family of embracing grace

This is definitely a book to be read and reread, a gift to help us live together in the greatest Gift of all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

to know and be known

I like descriptions of "heaven" I've read that refer to a complete (though not exhaustive and final) knowing of God and of each other.

The heterosexual act is meant to be an intimate and kind of climactic knowing of each other, or symbollic of that. This act, between the husband and wife alone, is one of expressing love (TNIV- "made love to"), and in the Hebrew means, or is expressed as to know each other, in this act. Of course much conversation or just being with each other in work and play is needed, to really get to know the other person. This physical act is meant to further that knowing in a bonding kind of way.

To know each other in a pure, nonmarried way, is to be carried on with friends in Jesus, as well as our neighbors in the world. And it goes on, to perfection in "heaven". This is a large part of what life is all about. It's to help others come to know God. And also to really get to know each other. There is no intimacy here that is reserved only for marriage. But there should be a true knowing that can begin now. And the intimacy that we will know, though not in the physical act married people experience now, will be surely be far deeper then.

As I've tried to write on this, I'm reminded of David's words in Psalm 131. I have plenty to learn from others on this subject now. And we surely all have plenty to learn from God, and a whole new experience of this awaiting us in the life to come.

In blogging I do like to try to get to know people. This is not easy, since blogging can never replace sipping coffee with someone. But it's good for me, as far as it goes.

All of this is just a taste of what it means to be in communion in the love life of the Trinity. We begin that experience now, in Jesus and with each other. Someday we will be immersed in it, and then we will know on a personal, relational level, just as God knows us now.

What thought or slant might you share on this?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

what is that in your hand?

God's word to Moses speaks to us today. I know a young man who has, in the recent past made a profession of faith in Christ. I know a father who really doesn't want to do the real work of in-depth discipling or mentoring of him, because this young man is in love with his daughter. I know some guys in this church gathering and fellowship, who could do a bang-up job, in this work in relationship with the young man. But they are unwilling to, because they want a book or materials to help them do so. I think their want is valid. And there are plenty of good materials out there to choose from. We have one bookstore where it would take some time to sift through everything to decide what one might like to use with someone.

God's word to Moses, "What is that in your hand?" speaks to us in terms of being faithful to God's calling with the gift and resources he gives us along the way. One fellow, who both seems to live and speak as one who knows God, and wants to see him known, could simply share his life with this young man. Sipping coffee while telling each other their stories, and their thoughts and struggles. Doing other things together, so that this young Christian can learn what it means to follow Jesus. And so that this young man can become bonded to a fellowship of other believers.

We all have struggled believing that we're not capable to help others, or another, for one reason or more. And often the reasons we have are by nature obstacles or problems we face, and need to overcome. However, that is part of what we can share with another, as they too face troubles.

We all have limitations. If we start comparing ourselves with another, or if we worry about measuring up to some kind of standard out there, then we will most likely falter, and not be the help we could be. Instead, let's look at our hand. What has God placed there? What are we to do with it?

I know that this young man could be greatly helped by the fellow I have in mind (and actually, other guys in this fellowship, as well). There are two sides. The young man needs to look for someone he can learn from, in becoming a serious follower of Jesus. I pray this may happen in the near future. And I pray that I too will see the good I can do, the good that is in my hand, and that I'll be quick, with joy- or when it is hard, with faithfulness- to do it. And that this will be how I live.

Do you have anything from your experience or thoughts on this you would share with us?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas reflections: the love of God

In Jesus' coming, we have the love of God coming down to earth in a little human baby. This being the beginning of an event that would forever change the world.

God's love gives, not only good things, as well as needed help, to a fallen human race. God's love gives himself. In the mystery of the Trinity, and in the mystery of the Incarnation, we get a glimpse into the mystery of God's love, meant to take us in to become part of this wondrous truth and reality.

This is a love that is not only willing to die, but dies, for the beloved. For everyone who has ever lived or will live. The Christmas story and the Christ of Christmas is for us all. Not one of us is excluded from finding our place in this Story.

I hope this Christmas season, that we'll all reflect on this gift of the Incarnation, anew and afresh. In ways that will cause us, like Mary, to ponder and treasure this wonderful communicative act and event from God to us. The greatest gift we could ever receive and share with others.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas reflections: the way of the cross

When one looks at the experience of "the holy family", and considers the misunderstanding that surely continued, surrounding the unique circumstances of Mary's pregnancy, one sees that this was not at all, an easy or glamorous road they were directed on, by God. Simeon's words mark the way of the cross that was to be the path for this Messiah, quite unlike anything Jews expected, surely taking back Mary and Joseph.

The way of the cross we see now, as necessary for our salvation and the salvation of the world. Jesus pointed this out to his disciples as he showed them from Scripture, on more than one occasion that the Messiah would have to suffer and die. Then, as he also taught, he would be raised to life. Very hard sayings on more than one level at that time.

This way is lived out in humility, and obedience. It really begins with God choosing a humble maiden and goes on to the difficulties in the scandal of her pregnancy, as it is misunderstood. Then goes on to a stable and manger in which this Messiah is born. Then they have to flee to Egypt. Then return to Nazareth to live a regular and unremarkable -at least for any messiah- life. This goes on for quite some time. With the twelve year old Jesus' remarkable incident in the temple being an exception to the rule (at least to those other than Mary and Joseph), as he becomes simply known as the carpenter, and of the family of Mary and Joseph.

God continues to work this way today. In Jesus. Through those we would not even consider. And even in our own lives, we who know ourselves all too well. But Jesus beckons us too, to take up our cross, and follow him, as his resurrected people. People who, in Jesus have died and been raised to live a new life. Yet do so not yet glorified. Living as his Body here on earth, in the days of our humiliation, prior to our glorification.

The way of the cross, as the old hymn goes, it leads home! And there's no other way in Jesus, but this way.

What about us? Do we believe that? How does that belief reflect in our celebration of Christmas? And most importantly, how does that belief reflect on how we live from day to day, week to week, year to year?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas reflections: the extraordinary to the ordinary

Shepherds, though viewed positively in Scripture, were ordinary, everyday people in the workaday world of the nativity event (Darrell Bock). The world divides the ordinary people from those considered extraordinary. As in the elite, educated, sophisticated extraordinaires, as opposed to the rest, in many places, including America. The church has often succumbed to this (see James in his warning in chapter 2) kind of thinking. Through the centuries its divide of "saints" from the rest, as well as the clergy/laity divide has not been helpful to God's bringing in of the new Israel in the new creation and new humanity in Jesus, one in which these divisions between rich and poor, slave and free, learned and illiterate, etc., dissolve, and are no more.

It is interesting that Jesus, called the good and great Shepherd, was not a shepherd himself during his earthly life. But he worked a humble trade (either as a carpenter or with stone) in the midst of people in a small village, not far removed from rural life. Jesus himself lived as an ordinary person who astonished all, especially, it seems, those who thought they knew him, and in some ways did know him best. But this is like God, and his work in our world.

Shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Yes, they are there. But not really in the mainstream and ebb and flow of society that much. But it's a regular night.

Suddenly! There are gasps. Rods and staffs fall to the ground. Then the shepherds either fall down, or get down, as they look up to the sky. Hands on their heads to partially guard their eyes from the sudden blaze of light, and to bend their ears, so they could catch the wondrous event, occuring right before them! (I think of how it may have occurred)

An angel of Yahweh, no doubt! "Fear not! Behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which is for all the people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you. He is the Messiah, the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

Then suddenly the sky becomes even brighter. A choir of angels appear, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heavens. And on earth, peace, good will towards all those on whom his favor rests." Breathtaking.

Just as suddenly as it began, the sky is back to normal. But the shepherds, yes these ordinary shepherds are not the same. They are strangely filled with a kind of peace and inward joy, and at this time are in "a rush". They tell each other that they should hurry to Bethlehem and see this event that has come to pass, that the Lord told them about.

So they hurry off. They find Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus. And then they begin to tell this good news as it had been given to them by the angels, amazing their listeners. Mary treasuring this in her heart.

The shepherds return to their "ordinary" world and work. Glorifying and praising God in light of all they had been told and witnessed.

The extraordinary from God, appears and is revealed, time and time again to us ordinary people. Many times we may not express what we've seen all that well. But those who hear us know we've seen something. They know something extraordinary is there, even though we're just ordinary people. God seems to delight in making himself and his works, and from that, his ways, known to any of us who will just be open to hear, see, learn from that, and tell others. Isn't it wonderful? Some of the best and closest times I've had with others in God, were times with uneducated folks who loved God wholeheartedly and had a faith that was contagious. They could learn nothing from me, as I did from them. I learned to be content as one of them, this being an important part of what God was doing in forming me towards the Eikon of God I am to be.

What about us? Do we realize this as one of the ways of God? That he reveals himself in his greatness and goodness to just ordinary folk, who are nothing special in the eyes of the world? Do we believe he wants to make himself known in Jesus, to us? And through us to others?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas reflections: seeking

The magi in the Christmas story (Matthew 2:1-12) received insight from God, from Scripture (maybe through a Jewish community in exile) and from the skies. They studied the stars. And while some of what they did with that study well could have been misguided, there came, in their observations, a special breakthrough of revelation from God. Yes, a star was to come, as the Hebrew Scriptures said. And this was the time. And Israel would be the place. And so they found the star, and somehow it was a sign, enabling them to find the baby Jesus.

From what we can tell, these magi were at least not beggars. They had enough, and probably more, from what we can gather from the story, to concentrate their time, efforts and skill on their love of studying stars, and whatever else they may have done. But somehow they came into contact with the Hebrew Scripture's promises about a great king to come. One who would be blessed, and would bless the entire earth.

This set the Magi to becoming seekers. Their seeking involved a trip. Perhaps from Persia or Arabia. They brought gifts, fitting for such a special king. Their journey would have afforded them more time to meditate on what they were doing, and why, though they may still have been filled with wonder. After stopping in Jerusalem to inquire of King Herod just where this baby, born king of the Jews was, they headed off to Bethlehem, as they had been told through the prophecy (Micah 5:2,4).

When the arrived, overjoyed at the sign of the star guiding them, they bowed down and worshiped (or, paid homage to) him. Then they presented their special gifts, befitting a king. And they returned home, warned by God not to let Herod know the whereabouts of the child as he had requested.

While perhaps the biggest fact we can gather from this story is that this is the beginning of Gentiles coming to the Messiah, the King of Israel, to submit to him, I think we can draw, from that, thoughts for ourselves. After all, most of us are Gentiles. And even Jews have to learn to do the same (isn't it remarkable how great things nearby, under our noses, can be taken for granted, while others travel many miles to see them?).

First, God puts it into our hearts through creation that he exists, and something of his greatness in that existence, as well as the hope that he is good. From Scripture, we know God is revealed to be great and good. And from this, we can become seekers.

What we are seeking, though we may not initially know it, leads us to Christ, to Jesus. This seeking requires effort on our part. But it is kept glowing, not just by our efforts, but by something and Someone beyond us.

And this seeking really preempts everything else. We know that it is something we need, and others may need as well. So we journey on. Sometimes this may take days. For others of us, it can involve years. But it becomes something of what is important and at the heart of who we are.

When we finally arrive, we know we have found it! By then, we know we ought to give not only our best gifts, but first of all our very lives. And so, in faith we receive the greatest Gift of all. And in receiving, we worship. And like Abraham, we become worshipers of the one true God revealed in Jesus.

After that, life goes on, but nothing is the same. We are held captive by the vision we have witnessed. We know what we have done has left us undone, but refitted, and really remade, with a new heart, a new mind, a new life. And we continue to be seekers and worshipers throughout our lives.

In your story, what has helped you to be a seeker, finder, and worshiper of God in Christ?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas reflections: greed

We see in Herod and in the manner of the Roman occupation of Israel, during that time, greed in large part imposing a yoke of oppression on the Jews living in the land. Herod was living in luxury and bent on keeping his power and wealth. The excessive taxation he imposed in the name of Rome and the Almighty Caesar (as well as in his own name, secondarily) on the one hand kept the Jews in their place. But it also tended to foment the unrest and dissatisfaction of many Jews. And most of them looked forward to the promise of the coming Messiah who would break all worldly yokes off of his people, in his reign.

There were some Jews who benefited from cooperating with Herod and Rome. But the majority suffered, They longed for the coming of Messiah who would be greater than Solomon. We probably see this when the crowd following Jesus, after being fed by him through his sign (miracle), wanted to make him their "Bread King" (John 6).

Greed afflicts us all. It seems, from Jesus' teaching as well as from Scripture to especially have a hold on many of the rich. Jesus declared it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe this was simply to make the point that the rich were not inherently closer to the kingdom than the poor. In fact Jesus seems to have clearly taught the opposite. Yet rich and poor alike can be afflicted with the sin of greed. This is why Jesus turns to those around him and tells them to beward of greed, because a person's life does not consist in wealth and possessions (Luke 12).

When God becomes flesh, in the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas, we see the opposite of greed. God stoops down to the point of completely identifying with a lost and sinful human race. He gives completely of himself, even to the point of the death of the cross. So that we humans can give ourselves completely to him and to each other, in return. He became poor so that he, by his poverty, could make us rich (2 Corinthians 8).

Notice the family Jesus was born into. While not living in abject poverty, nevertheless among those who work hard, and seem, at least at the start, to be among those who are poor. Why didn't God pick a wealthy family to raise his Son? Maybe this had, in large part to do with the contrast he wanted to make between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. The great in his kingdom would be those who are servants to all, of whom the Messiah would be the greatest.

Some of the most generous people I know are themselves poor. They have to watch every dollar. Yet they do what they can, and when a few extra dollars come that they "don't need", they do good by helping someone else in need. This is the true spirit of Christmas. The true spirit of Christ. The true spirit we are to have and be moved by, as Christians.

Paul points out that giving is a grace from God. As Jesus told his disciples, we are to give freely, in the same way we have received from God. And in so doing we'll receive more to so give. Only because God gave us his all in Jesus, can we in turn give our all to God and to the world, as Jesus did. We need to keep growing in this grace of giving. And make it a big part, not only of our celebration of the greatest Gift of all, but of our lives year round.

What are you learning about this in your own life? Or what would you like to share about this?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas reflections: the expectation

Again, having seen The Nativity Story for the second time, I would have to concur with Scot McKnight, on the premise of his new book, The Real Mary, that while the film is very good, the Mary character could have been better. The acting was fine. But the interpretation of Mary is more in line with the traditional pious, passive role attributed to her. Scot shows in his book that the Mary of Scripture was likely different. She felt emotions of anger with the hope of God's justice, at the oppression of her people. That these matters were on her mind is evident when reading the Magnificat, her song.

Part of what's missing in our traditional view of Mary and her time is the hope of Israel that was prevalent then. It was an expectation to see the Roman empire, and Herod, put in their proper place. In other words out of place, and out of power. Because with the coming of the promised Messiah there would be justice and peace for all, not only in the land, but through all the earth.

The deuteroncanonical or "apocryphal" books, you can find in some of our Bibles (like editions of the NRSV) were written during the intertestamental time, and are windows into the Jewish hope and expectation of what God was going to do. What his will was, and how that would be fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. This is much more evident there than in the Old Testament books we carry. And it was at the heart of what Israel was looking for when Jesus came.

Mary knew this. She knew Scripture and believed that this Messiah would be living in the face of all other kings. So as to overthrow them, and bring God's good reign of shalom to earth. Mary was right. So right. But wrong in how that would come about.

Yes. Jesus in his coming brings the kingdom of God. This kingdom is satisfied with nothing less than God's rule of justice and peace to the entire world. It begins now. But is achieved in Jesus and in his death and resurrection. Along with his ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh. On his people to be his light and salt to all.

We inherit this expectation and see it, as having unfolded to already be active in the world, though not yet finished. We're involved in this work which is finished when Christ returns to earth.

This is why such confidence in governments of this world for us as God's people, is so misplaced. We should be those who want to hold all governments accountable to the King of kings and Lord of lords. In view of God's kingdom, and the vision of that kingdom given to us in Scripture.

And this should give us a renewed confidence to work in the hard places where there seems to be little hope. God's reign extends to all, and to every nook and cranny. And he gifts his people to do these various good works as those knowing this great hope that we know will be completely fulfilled among us, in Jesus.

What does the hope and expectation of Israel mean to you, this Christmas season? What part can each of us as those in Jesus play in it?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the vision of the kingdom of God and the old liberalism

The vision of the kingdom of God from Scripture that is capturing a good number today, in several camps- among them, evangelicals and emergents, has a familiar sound to it, from a faint, and to many, not such a faint recording from the past. Without getting into names, and some of that can be explored in the survey found in N.T. Wright's book, Jesus and the Victory of God, there is a general feeling among many conservative Christians, that the desire to see a kingdom of God theology impact our understanding of the gospel and of the work of God in Jesus in the world, is not a little in debt to such past old liberal thinkers.

Yes. These thinkers did stir up a hornet's nest, or cause a reaction that started well, but hasn't ended well, in "fundamentalism". And yes, they were not committed to the teaching from Scripture that sees Scripture as a special word from God- the word of God, written. However, they often did raise intriguing views or possibilities about what Jesus was all about. Many of their ideas, deservedly so, belong on the scrap heap of their modernist worldviews. However some of what was said provided enough question to help others dig deeper to find better answers than what some of conservative Christian theology has provided.

What I'm trying to say is that while the vision of the kingdom of God in Jesus, and from Scripture, (which has revolutionized my own theology in the past five years, first through N.T. Wright, then helped by Scot McKnight, for me) owes some things at least in stimulating thought, from old Christian liberalism, it is something other than that. And is beholden to an ongoing study of the historical setting of Jesus and Paul in that general time, both as to the world in which they lived with the worldview they lived in, as well as the same high view of Scripture both Jesus and Paul were committed to.

We need to open our Bibles afresh, to the possibility of a better theology, and way of seeing the Story's beginning, unfolding, and ending. Of course I'm not at all suggesting a departure from orthodoxy. This holds to essentials that are part and parcel in Scripture, as understood by the Church through the Spirit, through dealing with issues during past centuries. But what I'm referring to is an openness to wanting to see God's Story as it looked to Jesus and Paul during their lives.

To do so will at least mean an adjustment for many of us. Away from the old privatized, inner devotion to God which is depicted in the idea that "the kingdom of God is in you." And towards the teaching that "the kingdom of God is among you, or in the midst of you", in Jesus, and in his community. And not only that, but the kingdom of God which will take over the world, someday, is now at work in the world in every sphere. Yes. To see all people reconciled to God in Christ (2 Corinthians). And also to see all creation reconciled as well (Colossians). This is all part of the vision of the kingdom of God that we are to see, and be living in and for, in Jesus, in this world.

Just some ponderous and I'm sure, very "laylike" thoughts, I think need to be addressed and worked on in this consideration of the vision of the kingdom of God found in Scripture, and what impact it should have on us in our belief and practice, today.

Do you have any thoughts to add here? Or challenges?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mary's learning

In Scot McKnight's new book, The Real Mary, there is much food for thought for our own lives and identity in the Story of God. Mary treasures things told her about her son, and ponders everything in her heart. It is very much a learning experience for her. She has to learn to follow her son as her Lord. And she has to be open to having her theology revolutionized, and really turned upside down on its head.This was not an easy process. But necessary. And I believe to some real extent, necessary to everyone else who would follow Jesus.

In one way or another, following Jesus is going to undo so much of what we think is right and true. Why? Well, to begin with, through the Fall, we are wrong. We are wrong in so many ways. And even what we confess to be true, which is, we really don't understand very well. We're people of our times and places. We're shaped by our world. And while there is good there, because of the image of God in humanity and in human culture, there is much that is wrong and antithetical to that Eikonic state of humanity. And we partake in that.

In Mary's case, God had been at work to prepare her to be the Theotokos, the mother and bearer of God, of the God-Man, Jesus. So the convictions in her, which we find in the Magnificat , are wonderful, and shaped by God, from Scripture. Nevertheless Mary, like all of us, really doesn't understand how these prophecies, and God's word, will be fulfilled. She doesn't have the advantage we have, in now seeing the Story beyond her time to the present. Nor, for that matter, do we have some of the advantages she did, as a Jew, grounded in the hope of Israel, living during that time and in that place.

Mary's learning, for myself, is one of the highlights of Scot's book, and of the story we find in Scripture. The end result is learning to be a true follower of Jesus. Living in his way, in his truth and in his life. Mary learned well, and as Scot points out, is probably at least one of the chief sources of the gospel writers, as they get the story "by word of mother".

What place does learning to follow Jesus have in our lives? How can we learn to do this? What's involved? What would you like to share about this?

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Reading in Numbers 32 this morning, I was struck by the words of Moses to the Reubenites and Gadites, regarding their proposal to inherit land east of the Jordan. Moses made it clear that such a proposal and act was rebellion which would result in the LORD's judgment against the entire community. The Reubenites and Gadites then said that they would leave their numerous flocks and herds behind, in these prime grazing lands, build fortified cities to protect their women and children, and cross over with their fellow tribes to help conquer the land. Only after which they would return to their own property. This satisfied Moses, who earlier had made the point to them that anything less than this amounted to a turning away from following the LORD. He noted too, the failure of the ten spies in their evil report to Israel, about taking the promised land, in their not following the LORD wholeheartedly.

There is one thing we in Jesus, and as the Jesus community can always do. Follow God wholeheartedly. There are many things along the way that can sidetrack us from this. But in God's eyes, and it should come to be seen as the same in our eyes, these "reasons" to be sidetracked are merely excuses from following the Lord. The bottom line for us is the words Jesus gave to Peter, who was looking at something that was bothering him, and would at least slow him down. "What is that to you? You must follow me." (John 21)

Tests will come along the way. Tests of our faith in so following. We may waver along the way, and be sidetracked. But we need more and more to realize that all the reasons we have to falter in our faith, really only amount to excuses. Excusing ourselves from following the Lord.

I have been good at this over the years. But in excelling at finding matters that slowed me down, or stopped me in my tracks, I have failed or have been hampered in following God in my life. The Lord, only by his grace, is helping me now to grow in this and do better. And hopefully we can help each other to do the same. And continue strong, in this journey of faith. Following our God in this journey. As he leads us on.

What have you learned, or what are you learning about this?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

living out the life

This is nothing short of a life that we, in the Jesus community, all of us in Jesus, are living out. It is "the Life". As the new life in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. In communion with each other, in Jesus, and in union and communion with the triune God.

This is why, though rules have their place, they really do not have a kind of prior place in the living out of this life. For example, as one in Jesus, I don't refuse to steal, simply because it's a rule from God I must keep, and because it's part of a choice, among the many choices I must make along the way. No. But I refuse to steal, or fight any temptation I may have to do so, because I have this life in Jesus. And having this life, I want to live it out. And I have the dynamic in God to do so.

I was brought up with a form of legalism that made how one dresses (especially women), or what one does (and doesn't do) to be of prior importance in living out Christianity, in being a Christian. Fortunately there were those who knew better. But by and large Christianity was seen more for what we do and don't do, rather than who we are and "the life" that we have in Jesus. When I finally became a Christian, the new life in Jesus was at the forefront of my experience. I overflowed with this new love and grace I had found. But I gradually receded back into a kind of orientation, that, while not surrendering "the life" aspect entirely, nevertheless relegated it to a status that put the onus on me. As if living out this life, and remaining in it, depends on me.

In truth we live out this new life, only because of the dynamic of this life. Yes, we must choose to remain in it, or abide, just as our Lord tells us (John 15). But I live and move and have my being, as a Christian, as one in Jesus, only because of this new life from God. Within that comes freedom to obey God. Not by rote. Not by formula. Not by many ponderous decisions I must make every day. But as an expression of this new life given to me in Jesus. This means there is kind of a mystery and an unpredictability in it all. While at the same time there are parameters in the kingdom of God, in which we live.

And the living out of the life is communal. Though we individually live in it, we don't live in it just as individuals. We live this new life with others. Both with those who participate in this life with us. And with those to whom God would touch and transform through our lives, with this new life. In many ways. Into the Way. The Truth. And the Life. Jesus.

What do you find important, helpful or true in living out the life?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

embracing grace 13: dancing embrace

To be embraced by God in grace, and to embrace in return involves an action likened to a dance with Jesus Christ, which begins by embracing the world, the community of faith and Jesus personally.

God is at work in the world, and his people, as church, are an intrical part of his work. Each of us has our special place, task and gift from God. Like Tolkien's Niggle, we have a vision from God of what's to come, his will. We can see that fulfilled as we enter into the uniuqe task at hand for each of us.

God is at work in the faith community. All who are part of this embracing grace are part of community. Therefore we need to live this out. We need to find a faith community, a church that we can be part of, so as to be God's kingdom light to the world. We are there for each other in this, in Jesus. And from that we end up being here for the world.

And God is at work to help us personally embrace Jesus. We do this through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Through these acts of faith, we enter into a communion of fellowship with our Lord. And this faith personalizes, in all of our acts and interactions during our days. It is very much down to earth where we all live. In our families, our neighborhoods and beyond. And also back to our own reading of Scripture, meditation, prayer, and then works of love.

In all of this we are learning to dance the dance of embracing grace. A dance which our Lord teaches us personally. And which leads us to a wonderful end of which God has given us a glimpse here and now.

How is life like a dance? And what does this mean for all of God's creation that is to be renewed?

Monday, December 11, 2006

plodding along

Plodding along doesn't seem to be the path God would have his children on. I mean when it is almost an effort to pick up one foot after another, and when one seems to have a heavy and even fearful heart while being more or less disengaged from what they're doing. Though this kind of experience is not a necessary part of what it means to be plodding along, I've been there.

One's heart can be full, as well. Looking forward to some special times and opportunities to come. Yet remaining faithful to the task at hand. And open to what God has for that day, even though it seems to be "the day of small things", knowing that in God's eyes and hands, there can be blessing upon blessing.

Plodding along means continuing. Continuing when there may seem to be many good reasons to quit. Or at least slow down. Or question the entire enterprise. Not that there aren't times for reevaluation of everything before God. There are. But we are not to be easily removed from the task we perceive is at hand from God to us.

I kind of liken this post to a baseball game. Are we satisfied with laying down the sacrifice bunt, or hitting the ball to the right side to advance the runner, or getting the single? Or do we insist on the big hit, the homerun, double or triple- the big play? As in baseball, so in our lives, it's all about team and teamwork.

Plodding along means we do our part. It may not be any lead role. It may not have any notice. And, at times, it may seem mundane and even boring. But it is important, when considered in light of the whole. And as part of God's work in the world. And as a test of our hearts in complying to the task at hand.

I experience this, somewhat, most every day. There are highlights, and some days the highlights seem big to me. But most days consist of alot of time spent engaged in activities that in themselves seem of minor importance and consequence in the world. Yet in these things I look for the silver linings. What God is doing in me during those times. What I am doing, and can be doing for others. And what fellowship I am having with God and with others during such times.

How about you? How do you see your days? And what in your experience of "plodding along" might be helpful to the rest of us?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

emergent stuff

The emerging/emergent church, as it is called, I think, in the present day, is largely a healthy expression of the younger generation seeking to make the faith their own. And they are not satisfied at just their personal selves and lives. They are looking at the whole thing.

In doing so, I think they're asking many good questions. Foundational ones, to be sure. Like, What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus? What are we, as church in the world? And how is that to play itself out in the context of our day? These are questions of praxis (practice) and that is where their emphasis lies (generally). Maybe because they perceive the church at large to be concerned with theological belief, and much less concerned, evidently, with practice. Or they simply believe that both the theology and practice coming from it, are off track.

Overall, I think this is a good expression of faith for our day. Anything that makes us want to get back to the foundations of our faith, to see how it was expressed in belief and practice from the beginning, is good. And then seeks to understand what has happened in the story of God from that time to the present. And seeks to find what we're to be and do now, is good.

Instead of criticizing aspects of it we may find questionable, or mistaken, we need to step back and try to take in the whole. And ask ourselves, what is really going on here. We can do this only by letting the emergents speak for themselves. And hopefully, from that, entering into a conversation with them. In a posture of friendship as those who would receive, as well as offer anything.

Jesus Creed is a good place to start. Read and study from that blog, of Scot McKnight, and other emergent blogs he has as links. And read books from theologians who are influencing this movement, such as N.T. Wright, LeRon Shults, John Franke and Kevin Vanhoozer (not to mention, Scot McKnight).

I think we'll find in all of that, much we'll appreciate. And much there to help us in our own faith and journey as church, and as people of God.

Friday, December 08, 2006

down but not out

Yesterday's thoughts on telling the truth about ourselves, from Scot McKnight's book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, and the little conversation that followed, along with my own experience of normal ups and downs, set me to thinking more on this subject.

Last night I ran across an excellent post by Jim Martin, related to what we're thinking about. God's grace is there for us when we're down because of sin, or a struggle of one kind or another. God's grace, and God in his grace, is there for us. To help us through the down time. So that we can rise up again. And again live and walk in newness of life, as the resurrection people of God in Christ.

I like the song by Rich Mullins (lyrics can be found on this website), We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are. Struggling with sin, and sinning, frankly is a fact of life. We need to learn to deal with that. Not excusing ourselves, but learning to tell the truth about ourselves to God, and when appropriate or needed, to others. Anyone who says they have no sin are only fooling themselves (1 John 1). At the same time, as we confess our sins, God is faithful to both forgive us, and cleanse or purify us from all unrighteousness. So that we're truly down, but not out.

I come across in blogging kindly, for the most part. And for the most part, or at least a good portion of the time, I am, I think. However, I have my times when I can be a pain, especially when I think I'm trying to correct others or make a point, and especially at home. Now in that process, I work at it, so that I not only want to repent and ask for forgiveness, but improve, with the goal of not only doing better, but getting rid of what's wrong about myself. I find it amazing, in God's grace, and often exhilarating, to experience God's lift, out of my sin, and into his presence of grace. It is more like a steadying, oftentimes. With a peace and joy that accompanies it, in the renewed fellowship of God that I share with other believers.

Down but not out. This is a part of my ongoing experience. Because God lifts us up and in to his fellowship of love and grace.

How about you? Do you know God's gracious lift in your life?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

embracing grace 12: enlivened by embrace

In this chapter of Scot McKnight's book, Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us, we read of our need to tell the truth about ourselves- to God, and to each other. This is key for us to experience God's embrace of grace.

All God requires, Scot says, is that we tell him the truth about ourselves. About what we have done and failed to do. Unlike Adam, not covering our sins and ourselves, in attempting to hide from God. But uncovering our sins and true selves before him. When we do that, our sins in a true sense, to God, are beside the point. He has what he wants. Our expression of faith in him, in this truth telling. And in Christ, he has provided, and provides for us his embracing grace. This is why some of the times I have sensed the Lord's nearness the most, were times of genuine repentance on my part.

The Litany of Penitence from The Book of Common Prayer (1979) is a good prayer to say on a regular basis. Here is part of it:
We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
Within this prayer is what all such prayers require: after thorough confession there is the request for God's mercy, and then the promise of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ.

To tell the truth about ourselves involves, in Scot's words: "searching the cracks of the Eikon" to find the truth about ourselves. I think of the prayer of the psalmist (139):
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
I want to take this personally always and deal with sin. In Christ and by grace we can master it (cf., God's word of warning to Cain in Genesis and Romans 6). But this attitude must be ongoing. I know that's true. I must continue to be open to seeing and then telling the truth about myself. Then I can know that enlivening by God's embrace.

How do we avoid confessing our sins, and why do we do this? Is it good to say these prayers (such as The Litany of Penitence) together as God's people on a regular basis, and why?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

bad attitiudes or sin struggles

My posts lately, in the ears of some (and maybe including myself at times) may sound individualistic. Life is lived as individuals in community. And we impact and are impacted by community. And Christians' withdrawal from community is a great loss to them, and to the community they could be in participation with. These things are true, and really self-evident to those who've experienced them.

But life is still lived out, in a true sense, as individuals. Not being individualistic, hopefully. And as such, we encounter daily, matters that we engage in one way or another. An important aside: Jesus began his days, in early mornings, in prayer to the Father. Alone. We surely need to be regularly seeking to hear God from Scripture, and pray, regularly.

I experience bad attitudes and sin struggles at certain times during my days. I'm tempted to try and fix them in some way. But there is a sense in which I need to wait on God, while praying and meditating on Scripture, and pondering all things, to try to understand, and above all live in the will of God.

I find that it is best to wait. And in that waiting to be careful not to act on my feelings and urges, however right and righteous they may seem to be. It is clear, oftentimes, that such action and reaction is not according to God's revealed will we find in Scripture.

What I find is that God moves in my heart, by grace of course, to change it. To transform me. And in this process, to help me grow. Getting there involves repentance many times on my part. Confessing my sins, often of the heart. For example, inner grumblings against someone. And seeing God's forgiveness and cleansing come in.

In all of this, I'm not talking about taking a magnifying glass to our lives, and looking at ourselves constantly. But I am saying we need to be sensitive to, and aware of temptations and sin that may have slipped into our lives. Then respond in confession, looking to God for his grace.

The issues we struggle with often remain in our experience. So this posture is ongoing. The person who tests us, in various ways, may remain. But in the midst of dealing with these matters, by faith, hopefully the relationship and situation can change. And at least we can be changed to more and more reflect Jesus and God's love, grace and life in our lives.

What practices or thoughts have helped you get through, and over bad attitudes and sin struggles?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

long term waiting

Long term waiting is the wait in faith for God's answers and work in problems that we are experiencing. These are ongoing issues, such as health matters, or the fulfillment of vision we have received from God.

Long term waiting is transformative to us, if we do so in faith, persevering as those who hold on to God's promises, and trust his presence to sustain us. Often it's nearly anticlimactic when the answer finally comes. What was truly important, we can then see in hindsight, is the change this experience has had on ourselves.

Long term waiting is also helpful for us in community. We are united together in Christ, as those in the communion of the Triune God. We are made for each other, as well as for God. So this waiting helps bond us, as we truly weep with those who weep, and suffer together when one member suffers.

Scripture says that not all who had faith received God's promise, in their lifetimes. This can be true, even of ourselves. Therefore, it must not be about getting what we think God should give us, and when. But it must be about transformation as in Christian formation. And relationship which is at the heart of who we are and what we're all about.

In my own life I've waited and not received everything, and some of that pertains to what I perceive to be God's calling on my life. However, I can see that God's hand is there for good, in changing me and in helping me participate in the communion of his people, that is rooted in God's triune being.

Is God at work in your life in this way? Is there a sense of rest, yet also anticipation that keeps you on the edge, and exercising faith then, in your life? Or what?

Monday, December 04, 2006

short term waiting

(I had a majority of a post typed up, but just lost it -a keyboard issue! Well, here goes again.)

Sharon Brown shared with us yesterday in our church gathering, a wonderful message on waiting. How waiting involves a hope and anticipation of what God is going to do. And how we're changed in the process. Many wonderful thoughts she shared in a nice tapestry about this subject- for us as individuals and a community.

I'd like to look at "short term" waiting today, then "long term" later. Short term waiting on God, involves the troubles Jesus spoke about, when he said, "Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew). Each day we encounter problems that we cannot quickly resolve. They may require faith in praying, and deeds on our part, of perhaps speaking and/or doing something in the spirit of grace, truth and love. And without question, these kind of problems require an element of waiting.

This short term waiting has the element of faith. We do what we can (but, be careful- here), but the answer must come from God. They do often involve what seem to be small issues. Though if we fail to deal with them, they can often take root and become larger. So this is vitally important for us, that we "nip it in the bud" while we can.

Also, this short term waiting is good practice for us, in faith, to ready us for long term waiting, that is a part of our lives as well. So it is an exercise that strengthens, one could say, our faith muscles.

This practice of short term waiting can be helped along as we live, engaged in community. Our life in God is to be a communal life. Even though much of our time may be spent in isolation from community. We need each other- as brothers and sisters in Christ. It may seem small. But there may be the time and place to share our struggle, so that others can pray. This is especially important for long term waiting on problems, that require some significant time, to resolve.

Ecclesiastes also points out that as we are engaged in our work (and play- I would add) that this can help us to leave these matters, as necessary, in God's hands. And set them aside for the time being.

I am one who has difficulties and problems and issues that come along during the course of many a day. But I have learned to ride through them, by faith in God, knowing he'll bring me out on the other side, alright, and at times- and true in his work- for the better.

So be encouraged in the troubles you face. Don't let them bring you down. Let us ride them through. In faith. Not in unbelief taking matters in our own hands. But trusting in God for his leading and answer.

What would you add to these thoughts?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Nativity Story

Yesterday my wife and I saw The Nativity Story . I would recommend it to all. While I would have liked this and that to be there. And question a little, some of it, it does well in portraying this story, and something of what Mary and Joseph went through during that time.

I find the light from the star, on the film, rather odd. I can see something like that happening for the eyes of faith, as they played it out on the screen. There has to be some kind of phenomena that was going on with that star, that at least has the element of a sign from God. And the magi evidently did use their knowledge of real stars, in arriving to their belief in a sign pointing to a special king.

The actor playing Mary, Keisha Castle-Hughes does a wonderful job, which alone makes this, for me, a film to be reseen, and even treasured. Also the actor playing Joseph, Oscar Isaac does well, along with the other actors, in my book.

Also a great read is Scot McKnight's new book, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. It is easy yet engaging and profound. One that can impact our lives now and forever.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

the Rick Warren/Barak Obama controversy

On the 25th anniversary of the outbreak of AIDS, and on World AIDS Day, Senator Barak Obaman spoke at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California.
I applaud Rick Warren in his decision. Frankly I don't know what all the buzz and problem is about. Well,...yes I do. But I don't accept the complaints as valid. The complaints, I'm referring to are those expressed from the evangelical "religious right".

My question for my brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this, is: Have you found the perfect politician or perfect political party? According to criteria you've laid down, evidently many of you could reply in the affirmative, believing you have found such people.

I believe the error here, lies in our belief that we can find, or even make the perfect candidate. And that perfection is measured according to what? According, hopefully, to the revelation we receive from Scripture, of the kingdom of God come in Jesus. This kingdom closes the door on all injustice and evil. Bringing a good news that proclaims God's grace for forgiveness, healing, restoration and reconciliation. We can never be happy over abortions continuing. But neither can we be happy over people dying of AIDS. Or struggling in impoverished conditions, with insufficient medical care. Or a host of other things.

I'm thankful for Rick Warren's stand. And hopefully it will help evangelicals as a whole to break the grip that the religious right has had on us for so long. And answer with a better witness. One that is satisfied with nothing less than the revelation and realization of God's kingdom come, in Jesus. And may that begin with each of us, where we live.

What about you? What do you think about this, and why?

Friday, December 01, 2006

processing disappointment

I was grieved and disappointed over something last evening. What it was is beside the point for this post. I just want to reflect a little on handling disappointment.

Usually disappointment has to do with experiencing loss of some sort of expectation. Of course the expectation can be good and legitimate. And fitting, as in appropriate. But it also can be not good or legitimate for the one holding it. Or not fitting, or appropriate.

In my case I'm very much grieved. I'm not sure what to do with it. I do know that during such times I'm more vulnerable to fall into a mild depression. Or say or do something I may regret later. So what I want to do is simply to bring it to God. And maybe to a good friend or two. And not say or do anything more, for some time. I'm saying now, until January. That will give me plenty of time to get over it. And God can do his healing and necessary work on me during that time.

Waiting on the Lord is an important part of this process. It is a waiting which involves a hope which involves, again, expectation. But an expectation that is open to God's will. Knowing that God is good, and will do good in this, and in every other situation.

What I must avoid is taking matters in my own hands. If I do that, then I've missed the boat. Then I show myself in need of God's correction, for that alone. But if there is something I should do or say, very soon, then surely the Lord will make that clear enough to me, so that I can proceed in that direction, by faith.

One thing I need to keep reminding myself is to be careful around my loved ones, my family. It's so easy to expect more from them than what they can give. They have their own struggles, difficulties and disappointments in life that they too, are processing. I must be careful not to be so all consumed in mine that I forget that. I must confess I failed in that way last evening. My wife is good in supporting me, as I hope I'm good in supporting her (though I believe she is better)- she is a good helper and gift from God. And our daughter is loving and sensitive, as well. They will be an important part of helping me through this.

What thoughts might you have in processing your own disappointment? Or on this subject?